Sycamore ready for its close-up

By Sarah Contreras

When you think of film festivals, which cities come to mind? Park City, Utah; Cannes, France; and, of course, Sycamore?

That’s right.

For the second year in a row, the Sycamore Film Festival will bring art, culture and fun to the Sycamore and DeKalb area. The Sycamore Film Festival is the brainchild of Shela Lahey, a Sycamore resident who has over 20 years of experience in the film industry. While entering her own work into festivals across the country, Lahey felt most of the events were lacking in one crucial area:

“The filmmakers are the most important people, and the festivals treated them like they were the least important,” Lahey said. “I thought, ‘I can do a festival that is kinder to filmmakers.’”

And so, the Sycamore Film Festival was born. Originally a two-day event with only 12 participants, the festival now spans three full days and features over 30 films from around the globe. Filmmakers from Mexico, England, Argentina, Spain and the U.S. will be given their time to shine on Sycamore’s silver screens.

Lahey believes the festival is a great way for local residents to get worldly perspectives on topics that are not usually brought to light.

“Our goal is to educate, illuminate, as well as entertain the community,” Lahey said.

From documentaries about Holocaust survivors and the last standing castle in Chicago to heartfelt comedies, audiences will get the chance to explore a broad spectrum of topics.

The Sycamore Film Festival enhances the community in other ways, too. A not-for-profit, Arts for the Art’s event, the Sycamore Film Festival donates proceeds to scholarships for local area high school students who are pursuing an education in the arts. The festival itself kicks off at both Sycamore and DeKalb high schools, where students will view and vote for their favorite student films. Films are eligible to win up to $500 in award scholarships.

“I love the student filmmakers,” Lahey said. “They’re passionate, they’re new, they really believe in themselves. They put their heart and soul into it. It’s a great way to show off their art and encourage other students to do the same.”

One of the highlights of the festival is the various discussion panels offered. This year, one panel will feature actor/director James Hampton, actor/writer/producer Ben Dreyfuss and other filmmakers from around the world. Also on the docket is a panel which will feature retired and active duty soldiers discussing the role of war films and the impact they have on citizens, soldiers and veterans in regard to education and illuminating the public as to the devastation and reality of war, Lahey said.

There are many ways, besides filmmaking, to get involved with the festival. Lahey credits NIU’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega as central to growth of the festival.

“This is how we grow,” Lahey said. “The more help we have, the bigger we can become next year.”

The festival also employs student interns who can earn students up to three credit hours.

The Sycamore Film Festival begins 3:45 p.m. Friday at the Sycamore State Theater, 420 W. State St. Each day will offer different discussion panels, films and concerts across Sycamore. Tickets are available at the Egyptian Theatre box office. For more information, visit